A Philosophical Debate: Dualism versus Materialism

Awake in a Silver Land by Cameron Gray

In 2005, I took a Philosophy of Religion class with Dr. L. Stafford Betty at California State University, Bakersfield. One of the many class readings I read that quarter was his (2004) paper “Mind, Paranormal Experience, and the Inadequacy of Materialism.” In this paper, he argued for the inadequacy of reductive materialistic or monistic theories, which do not account for the wide rang of human experiences. Betty includes paranormal experiences like telepathy, clairvoyance, mediumship, near-death experiences, and reincarnation within the whole of human experience, indicating that strict materialism could not explain such experiences.

The alternative to materialism is dualism. Basically, monists consider the mind-body as one and there is no room for a soul or spirit, and dualists see spiritual as separate from the physical. For more in depth detail on these topics, check out the links above and this video of Dr. Betty discussing the Mind-Body problem in philosophy.

In Betty’s (2004) paper, he describes an alternative to both the reductive materialistic and substantive dualistic perspectives, which he coins Transcendental Materialism (TM) as a means to link the two perhaps, and at least doing away with the problems he sees in both. His goal is to define an alternative that encompasses all of human experience. He rejects substantive dualism calling it a “doughty old theory” which has been beat up over the years and ridiculed as “the dogma of the Ghost in the Machine.” Yet, he cannot move away from the possibility of something else, something greater. The fact that the material brain produces immaterial consciousness seems cause for more questioning on his part, even as the materialists explain it away as epiphenomena (nothing more than a byproduct of brain-functioning).

Since neither substantive dualism nor material monism will do, Betty introduces his alternative perspective.

This theory has much in common with substance dualism, but it is not dualist, for it posits not two different substances but various grades of one substance. What to call this substance is troubling to me, but in deference to history as well as fashion, I will call it material. Transcendental Materialism, or TM, is the tag we will use for this theory (p. 387).

Betty likens TM to the materialism of the early Stoics who incorporated their belief in a supreme deity, various invisible gods, and souls.

God, for Zeno, was “the logos in the matter,” “aether, endowed with
Mind, by which the universe is governed.” “He interpenetrated the whole matter of the world as a pneuma.” He was the active, organizing principle residing in the passive, originally unorganized matter of the world. Although corporeal himself, the Stoic God was “the aether at its clearest and purest . . . the most mobile thing that exists” (p. 388).

This is not substantive dualism, as they are all one material, but have varying grades of said material.

A single kind of substance with innumerable grades of grossness and
subtlety, ranging from the utterly dense stuff of what we call lifeless matter to the inconceivably subtle “matter” of the Divine Mind. The qualitative difference between these two extremes is impossible to exaggerate, yet both are expressions of only one substance (p. 389).

Betty rightly points out that this idea is not novel. It can be seen in the works of Spinoza and in the five-bodied souls of the Upanishads. I would say we see it also in the Kabbalah as each emanation comes from the first, but is different from it in some varying grade. In fact, that very influence of thought provoked me to write a paper for the class commenting on and criticizing Betty’s alternative materialism.

I read the paper in class and received an A. Here is that paper.

Burden of Proof: Materialism versus Dualism


California State University, Bakersfield

Materialism versus Dualism

When discussing the relationship of the mind to the body, one can either say “my mind and all its aspects (thought, dreams, imagination, memories, etc.) are productions of my brain” or, “my mind has a separate substance and nature, than that of my material ‘meaty’ brain” (Betty, 2005).  A materialist is a person who believes if the brain is no longer functioning, then the person the brain belongs to ceases to exist.  They do not have patience or room for an afterlife in their theory (except for Transcendental Materialism, which I will revisit later).  A dualist would argue, “A brain is material and substantial.  Dreams, thoughts, memories, and moreover consciousness and self-awareness are not substantial and material, so they must come from an unsubstantial or immaterial source, i.e. the soul.”  The materialist would counter by asking, “How can two things as different as something material and something immaterial work well together, if at all?” We are forced to determine whether the burden of proof lie with the dualist, needing to prove how material and immaterial things work together, or with the materialist, asserting that something immaterial and insubstantial must have been created by something material and substantial?  I find the latter illogical and hard to swallow, so I will attempt to support the claims of the former, dualism.

Transcendental Materialism

Before I truly begin discussing dualism, I need to take a moment to give credence to Transcendental Materialism (TM).  This is an interesting and albeit attractive scenario, working as a middle-road between dualism and materialism.  TM suggests that all things are material, from the Divine on down to the Earth’s core, but these materials have different grades, ranging from the very dense to the very ethereal.  What we find is that there is divine material for God, soul material for souls, body material for bodies, rock material for rocks, etc (Betty, 2005).  This is a great proposal, but there is one problem.  When you break it down to semantics and remove the word “material” from the above sentence, you return back to dualism, where we find: divine for God, soul for souls, body for bodies, rock for rocks, etc., and thus returning to dualism.  Although the theory makes the attempt to bridge the gap between materialism and dualism, it is inevitably more dualistic than materialistic and therefore less of a middle-road than one might hope for.

Source Material Dualism

I propose that there is another alternative for bridging a gap between dualism and materialism, but my proposal may be victim of leaning too far to the dualistic side as well. Prior to the Big Bang, all that is physical and all that is spiritual were one, and that oneness is the divine transcendent force of creation, i.e., “God”.  The Big Bang occurred when “God” separated the physical from the spiritual, creating two universes: the material universe and the immaterial universe. So, although we have two separate substances, material and immaterial, they both are originated from the same source, “God.” This may hint of panentheism, but I venture to say that is something else altogether. I call this theory Source Material Dualism. To support this theory, I utilize the scientific research currently being done at the European Nuclear Research Organization (CERN).

Matter versus Antimatter

The scientists at CERN say the Universe began approximately 13.7 billion years ago, and at that time there were created equal amounts of matter and antimatter. “Experiments in particle physics show that matter and antimatter are always created in equal quantities, indicating that this should also have happened at the Big Bang” (CERN, 2005). Matter and antimatter are both identical and perfectly opposite, as matter has particles, so antimatter has antiparticles; basically meaning they have opposite electrical charges. This trend continues with the other building blocks: electrons are to matter as positrons are to antimatter, protons to antiprotons, and neutrons to antineutrons, even quarks to anti-quarks. The scientists tell us, if we were looking at antimatter we could not tell the difference between itself and matter as “looking at an object means seeing the photons coming from the object; however photons come from both matter and antimatter” (CERN, 2005). For example, if you has a vacuum in which you created antimatter and made a baseball out of it; it would look like a baseball of matter. But, when we look at what constructs this baseball, rather than electron, neutrons, and protrons, we see positrons, antineutrons, and antiprotrons. If we tried to play with this baseball outside of its vacuum, it would annihilate with tremendous power. One of the problems with studying antimatter in a world of matter is that they would annihilate one another if they ever came into contact.

The question remains, “why did the antimatter not completely annihilate the matter [after the Big Bang], leaving only energy (photons) in the universe?” Scientists speculate that “either antimatter completely disappeared during the history of [the] universe, or matter and antimatter have been separated from each other to form different regions in the universe.” (CERN, 2005). The scientists postulate an unbelievable anti-universe consisting of anti-helium, anti-carbon, etc. It seems that these scientists have found a scientific dualism to the universe in their research of antimatter, which they are unable or willing to connect to the spiritual universe that dualists have been hard-pressed to explain. I postulate that these scientists do not create antimatter in their experiments, but extract it from the antimatter universe that coexists with the matter universe. That is, when we see antimatter annihilate it is only returning to its own antimatter universe.


Thanks to the antimatter research done at CERN, a dual aspect to the universe has been discovered. If we, as philosophers, apply the scientific discovery of the obvious instance of substance dualism in the universe to our own ideas, then one can see how materialists have no quarter to renounce dualism entirely, and they truly bear the burden of proof in this case. I believe the Source Material Dualism theory makes a case as a middle-ground between materialism and dualism, as it is seemingly supported by the antimatter research. Furthermore, dualism in general is not only supported by the research done in matter and antimatter, but in other human experiences that materialism is unable to account for, such as paranormal experiences (Betty, 2005). With all this force on the side of dualism, it is a wonder why one even considered materialism a viable option.


CERN (2005). Antimatter information. Website: http://public.web.cern.ch./public/. Retrieved February 28, 2005.

Betty, L. Stafford (2005). Lecture in “Philosophy of Religion” (February 23-28, 2005). California State University, Bakersfield.

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